He Opened Their Eyes

Rev. Landon Whitsitt
The Resurrection Life  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  19:37
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Friends, before I begin I want to thank you for welcoming me into your homes and worship lives today. I and my colleagues at the Synod of Mid-America are so very grateful to our colleagues all across the church who serve as your pastors. For the last 2 months, they have worked tirelessly on your behalf, seeking to serve you with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love even as their own lives have been turned upside down. So we are honored to be able to take one thing off their hands this wee

May 24, 2020 He Opened Their Eyes Luke 24:44-53 Rev. Landon Whitsitt, Synod Executive, Synod of Mid-America Friends, before I begin I want to thank you for welcoming me into your homes and worship lives today. I and my colleagues at the Synod of Mid-America are so very grateful to our colleagues all across the church who serve as your pastors. For the last 2 months, they have worked tirelessly on your behalf, seeking to serve you with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love even as their own lives have been turned upside down. So we are honored to be able to take one thing off their hands this week, and we would ask you to join us in sending them a note of encouragement and thanks for, truly, being a steadying presence in our lives during this pandemic. Will you join me in prayer? Holy God in whom we live and move and have our being, We are not separate from you nor one another, even though we may act like it. In your forgiving Grace, please prick our hearts and illumine our minds, that we might hear a word from you this day. Amen. Our selected reading on this Ascension Sunday comes to us from Luke’s Gospel. Friends, let’s attend to God’s word: 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are 1 witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God. And may God bless our reading and our hearing of these words for how we live our lives. Amen. You know what I hate? Cliffhangers. Always have, and I always will. I suspect I am not alone in this. I mean, who likes to be mentally and emotionally tortured? I’m sure there are some of you weirdos out there who like that, but I haven't met one. But cliffhangers are magnificent ways of heightening the tension of a story. They tell us what’s at stake, and they have been used by writers for generations. I think TV has had some of the best ones, and it all really started with Dallas. For those of you who don’t remember, Dallas was a nighttime soap opera of the late 70s and early 80s that focused on the Ewing family, their oil business and their ranch. Well, at the end of season 3, the show did something that hadn’t really been done much before. In what were literally the final seconds of the episode, one of the lead characters, JR Ewing, was shot. And then the credits rolled. That episode aired at the end of March and the world had to wait 8 months before getting an answer to the then-ubiquitous question “Who Shot JR?” 8 months! It was a crafty move on the part of the writers, and every TV show since has followed Dallas’ lead and ended their seasons with a cliffhanger in some form or fashion. 2 Now, not all cliffhangers are as dramatic as Dallas’. In fact, most of them are actually kinda boring, and that’s actually why I don’t like them. I’ll take JR Ewing getting shot. I’ll accept the reveal that LOST had shifted from flashbacks to flash forwards. I’ll relish Hank realizing Walter White is Heisenberg. But if you don’t pull that off and leave me with a whimpy “Huh? I wonder what’s gonna happen next?” Then just stop, because you’ve failed at the one job a cliffhanger has, and that’s to set up the rest of the story. Our scripture reading today from Luke is the Gospel writer setting up the rest of the story. Here’s an important thing to know about Luke: It’s one of two books written by the same author. Biblical scholars have long told us that the same person who wrote this Gospel also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, the story of how the church became the church. There’s an interesting thing Luke says at the beginning of the Gospel. He says this: Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. I love this. Basically, he tells his friend Theo “After reading everything everyone else produced about the life and ministry of Jesus, I decided they wrote it wrong. Listen to me, I’ll set you straight.” From the very first moment, Luke has a plan with this story. He wants to take his friend Theo on a journey, but it’s a journey that doesn't stop with Jesus. Interestingly, for Luke, the life and ministry of Jesus serves as a set up for the life and ministry of the church. The verses we read today are the very last verses of the Gospel. After this, we’re into Acts. We’re moving on. But like all good cliffhangers, this section of the Gospel serves its function well by setting up the next scene. 3 Luke tells us that when Jesus showed up there with the disciples “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” And what did they come to understand? That repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed everywhere. This is the critical setting up. Jesus going up into the clouds is cool, but...that’s all it is. Next week is Pentecost, and there’s a cool thing that happens that day, too (the tongues of fire), but don’t forget the big thing that went down on that day was a sermon by the Apostle Peter explaining the scriptures to those present, calling for repentance and offering forgiveness. It was this sermon that resulted in three thousand people becoming a part of the community in one day. And from that day on, the people held things in common, no one was allowed to live in any kind of need, differences among Jews and Greeks were honored and they found a way to live together and serve one another, hospitality and welcome became the guiding star. Freedom and liberation and well-being were the church’s aim. Those who had been outcasts were no longer looked down on as inferior, but the circle was widened and a new understanding of what it meant to live together in peace and justice was born. And it all started when Jesus opened their minds to the Scriptures. In one of our confessions, A Brief Statement of Faith, we read this: In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace. Friends, if the world we are living in is not a broken and fearful one, then I don’t know what is. For the last two weeks, our colleagues and friends in the Office of Public Witness and the Committee on the Self Development of People and the Office of Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministry have hosted conversations laying bare that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized impact on communities of color. We know there are millions who have 4 lost jobs and, as a result, healthcare and other means to provide for their families. This world we are living in? It’s broken. And if we’re honest, there’s a lot to be afraid of. Will I get sick? Will my loved ones get sick? Will I lose my job? Where is my next meal coming from? For a lot of people this crisis has triggered depression and anxiety that they thought they had dealt with. It has been yet one more reason for white privilege and white supremacy to rear its ugly head. This world? It’s a fearful one. And yet, our confession says we hold onto the truth that the Spirit gives us courage to do the work. The Spirit we proclaim as “the giver and renewer of life” gives us the courage to do the work. How? I think it has to do with the last things Jesus said to the disciples before he ascended. He said: “You are witnesses of these things.” We have seen that God is a good God. We have seen that God cares for God’s people. It’s like the great anthem says: I will sing of God's mercy Every day, every hour He gives me power. I will sing and give thanks to Thee For all the dangers, toils and snares That He has brought me out. He is my God and I'll serve Him No matter what the test Trust and never doubt Jesus will surely bring you out He never failed me yet. Siblings in Christ, there is a lot of need right now for repentance and forgiveness. A lot of humanity is not the best version of itself these days. We are more broken and fearful than 5 we want to admit. But we have been witnesses. We know that our God cares for us. And we get to be the ones to tell everyone the good news of Christ’s Grace and Peace with our words and with our actions. Amen. Thanks be to God. 6
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